Tag Archives: Labor

Sylvia Rivera, transliberation, and class struggle.

Key readings:

“Amanda Milan and the rebirth of Street Trans Action Revolutionaries” by Benjamin Shepard in From ACT UP to WTO.

Leslie Feinberg Interviews Sylvia Rivera: “I’m glad I was in the Stonewall Riot.”

The Transfeminist Manifesto by Emi Koyama.

Street Trans Action Revolutionaries (STAR) was founded as a caucus within Gay Liberation Front (GLF) in 1971 to put forth trans demands in the gay liberation movement. The co-founder of STAR, Sylvia Rivera, was a Puerto Rican trans woman who led the Stonewall Riots in New York City in 1969 along with other trans of color. Yet gradually, the gay liberation movement was co-opted by white middle-class  folks who are gender-conforming and became conservative. Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), a New York based gay rights group was founded by ex-members of GLF who did not appreciate its radicalism and wanted to form a single-issued organization that only focused on reformist gay rights. GAA’s conservatism and transphobia showed when they dropped the trans demands while advocating citywide anti-discrimination rights in the 70s. They saw actions put on by STAR and Sylvia Rivera as too “dangerous,” “crazy,” and “extreme.”

Continue reading Sylvia Rivera, transliberation, and class struggle.

March 4 Student Strike Wrap Up

Analysis of March 4 is slowly appearing, but it will be some time before a fuller picture emerges. Until then we are collecting here a small number of writings that are relevant to the March 4 walk-out and protests. We will post more as it appears. If you find anything you think is important for discussion, please send it to us.

In the News

Hundreds of Thousands Take Part in National Day of Action to Defend Public Education, Democracy Now

Education funding demanded in ‘Day of Action’, The Oakland Tribune

Thousands rally on campuses, streets for schools, San Francisco Chronicle

UW student rally targets higher-ed funding, The Seattle Times

California Students Protest Education Cuts, The New York Times

Analysis

Open Letter to the White Student Movement by J.

Response to a Critic of the “White” Student Movement by occupy california

Raider Nation Collective Statement on the M4 Highway Takeover by Raider Nation Collective

Following String of Racist Incidents, UC San Diego Students Occupy Chancellor’s Office, Democracy Now

How Not to Capitulate to Union Bureaucracies: March 4th and the AFSCME 444 Resolution by Advance the Struggle

Don’t be Bamboozled by the Budget by Democracy Insurgent

How Can We Understand Recent Workers’ Resistance in China?

The following essay by Aufheben appeared in Aufheben #16 (2008). We are reposting it as a long, but important contribution to thinking about the central position of the Chinese working classes not only in global capitalism. Today, for the American working classes as a whole, there is no longer any place to hide from global capitalism. Now national conditions can be nothing but a reflection of international problems pressing in at all sides. The fate of Chinese and American workers are tied together.

Class conflicts in the transformation of China

Introduction

As we previously argued in issue 14,1 the immense economic transformation that is occurring in China has not been driven by China’s move to a market economy, as neo-liberal ideologues insist, but by the success of the Chinese state in attracting and tying down international capital on its own terms. When Deng Xiaoping opened up the Chinese economy in the early 1990s, after four decades of autarchic development, foreign capital was permitted entry only to the extent that it assumed the form of real productive capital. In joint ventures with the Chinese state, foreign capital was required to provide both the plant, machinery and technology necessary to raise the productivity of Chinese labour and access to Western markets. In return the Chinese state provided investment in infrastructure (i.e. transport, communications, electric power and other utilities) necessary for the accumulation of capital, social peace and, most importantly, an almost inexhaustible supply of cheap and compliant labour-power.

China’s integration into the world economy over the past decade or so has not only led to rapid and sustained economic growth in China, but to a rejuvenation of both world capitalism and American economic hegemony. Firstly, as we have previously pointed out, China’s integration into the world economy has been based on specialising in the mass production of cheap manufactured commodities, which the West, and the US in particular, either gave up producing during the restructuring of the 1970s and ’80s, such as clothes and toys, or which was were not produced before, such as DVDs and mobile phones. As a consequence, China has been able to establish a complementary dynamic of accumulation with the USA. As such, the vast and increasing flood of cheap Chinese commodities into the US economy has, for the most part, not had the effect of displacing American-based capital, and thereby creating unemployment, but has served to reduce inflationary pressures. At the same time, the Chinese state has recycled the growing inflow of US Dollars earnt by its exports by buying up American financial securities, thereby helping to financing America’s trade and government deficits. This has given the US authorities much greater freedom to use monetary and fiscal policy to ensure a more rapid and continuous capital accumulation and growth in the American economy.

Read the rest here

Two Views of the United Auto Workers

In early November, Ford workers voted down by a large margin a concessions package that would have accelerated two tier hiring and given away the right to strike for 6 years.

Here are two views on the meaning of the Ford workers vote and on the role of the UAW in the offensive against autoworkers and whether it should be by-passed altogether or it can be reformed.

Auto Workers Untamed: A “No” Heard ‘Round the World
By Ron Lare

By November 1, United Auto Workers (UAW) members at Ford had overwhelmingly rejected contract modifications, in voting that concluded—not coincidentally—the day before Ford announced new profits. This was the second set of modifications to the UAW-Ford contract proposed this year. The first were voted up in March, but the members saw these as a “giveback too far.”

The concessions just voted down were to last until 2015, i.e. through the new contract still to be negotiated for 2011. They included severe limitations on the right to strike, a six-year freeze on new-hire pay that had already been cut in half, and the reduction of skilled trades classifications. The argument of the company and the union leadership was that these measures were needed to “match” the labor cost savings at the bankrupt Chrysler and General Motors corporations.

At half pay, young auto workers will not be able to buy the cars they build. With the average nonunion industrial pay in the United States substantially higher than the $14.50 that Ford new-hires currently get, what does Ford—let alone the UAW—think it’s doing? Anyone who has been subject to the discipline needed in a modern auto assembly plant knows that—short of fascism—you can’t effectively run one here for this kind of pay. The top goal of this savage pay cut is not so much immediate savings as the extermination of the UAW as a respected force on the shop floor as well as politically. Ford will raise pay later, but hopes to dictate its own terms.

Solidarity House argued for the attempt to put Ford workers in line with those at bankrupt GM and Chrysler by appealing to the downward “pattern” that now includes non-union transplant companies. As many workers said during the campaign, “Bring them up to us, not us down to them.”
Continue reading Two Views of the United Auto Workers

Lessons from the League of Revolutionary Black Workers

The following are a few basic and rough notes on the League of Revolutionary Black Workers. For the purposes of this post they are mainly based on “Dying from the Inside: The Decline of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers” by Ernie Allen, a key account of the organizational issues of the LRBW. These aren’t exhaustive notes, since it is possible and necessary to dig much deeper into the issues raised by the LRBW. Instead, they represent some basic starting points for a more thorough discussion of one of the most important groups and experiences of the Black Power and New Left period.

However, they are informed by other important readings on the LRBW that can’t be missed. These include Detroit: I Do Mind Dying by Dan Georgakas and Marvin Surkin, A. Muhammad Ahmad, The League of Revolutionary Black Workers, 1968-1971, and Class, Race and Worker Insurgency: The League of Revolutionary Black Workers by James Geschwender.

*******

1. To understand the origins of the LRBW we have to grasp two interrelated issues. First, is the particular place and experience of black workers in the United States. Second, is the history of the United Auto Workers as it developed out of the mass CIO labor movement of the 1930s. Specifically, we have to look at the formation of an industrial union bureaucracy with its integration into capitalist production.

2. We need to understand the historical relationship between black labor and the apartheid system that has controlled it This system has deep roots in the stages of development of American capitalism. First as a source of the super-profits of enslaved labor extracted under a regime of racial terror. Second, as a debt-bonded peasantry that boosted falling profit rates of Southern agriculture and commodities under a racial caste system of Jim Crow segregation. Third, migration to the north to become industrial workers at the heart of American capitalism, but relegated to the lowest-tiered jobs and wages, generally excluded from production and skilled work until WW2, and subject to an elaborate system of discrimination and segregation to enforce this closed, racially-based labor market.

3. The role of the UAW bureaucracy was double-sided. One one side it helped subordinate workers to the assembly line by channeling grievances into periodic negotiations for the contract, thereby maintaining capitalist control over the day-to-day functioning of the factory. The other side of this role in controlling workers was enforcing the racial division of labor that not only facilitated job competition between black and white workers, but ensured that the status of black workers remain largely unchanged. Therefore the ways in which the bureaucracy functioned as an extension of capitalist power overlapped with its role as a white labor patronage network.
Continue reading Lessons from the League of Revolutionary Black Workers

Critique of Liberal Anti-Racism: A Way Forward or Regression on Race?

The following essay by Walter Benn Michaels appeared in the London Review of Books.

Here are some excerpts:

“My point is not that anti-racism and anti-sexism are not good things. It is rather that they currently have nothing to do with left-wing politics, and that, insofar as they function as a substitute for it, can be a bad thing. American universities are exemplary here: they are less racist and sexist than they were 40 years ago and at the same time more elitist. The one serves as an alibi for the other: when you ask them for more equality, what they give you is more diversity. The neoliberal heart leaps up at the sound of glass ceilings shattering and at the sight of doctors, lawyers and professors of colour taking their place in the upper middle class. Whence the many corporations which pursue diversity almost as enthusiastically as they pursue profits, and proclaim over and over again not only that the two are compatible but that they have a causal connection – that diversity is good for business. But a diversified elite is not made any the less elite by its diversity and, as a response to the demand for equality, far from being left-wing politics, it is right-wing politics.”

and

“Thus the primacy of anti-discrimination not only performs the economic function of making markets more efficient, it also performs the therapeutic function of making those of us who have benefited from those markets sleep better at night. And, perhaps more important, it has, ‘for a long time’, as Wendy Bottero says in her contribution to the recent Runnymede Trust collection Who Cares about the White Working Class?, also performed the intellectual function of focusing social analysis on what she calls ‘questions of racial or sexual identity’ and on ‘cultural differences’ instead of on ‘the way in which capitalist economies create large numbers of low-wage, low-skill jobs with poor job security’. The message of Who Cares about the White Working Class?, however, is that class has re-emerged: ‘What we learn here’, according to the collection’s editor, Kjartan Páll Sveinsson, is that ‘life chances for today’s children are overwhelmingly linked to parental income, occupations and educational qualifications – in other words, class.’”

Read the essay over at the London Review of Books.

As the South goes, so goes the Nation

*Written with Will

W.E.B. DuBois spoke these words – as the South goes, so goes the nation – many years ago to capture the fact that the South represents a key link in the chain for the U.S. working class in terms of resistance against exploitation and the violent suppression of organizing and organization among workers and people of color. This is no less the case today. The South (defined here as the 11 states of the former Confederacy plus Kentucky) has been central to the ruling class offensive and reorganization of capital for the last 40 years. Kim Moody illustrates the South’s growing importance for U.S. capitalism since the 1950s in his book U.S. Labor in Trouble and Transition.

To try to summarize some of Moody’s key arguments: Claims that industry has completely disappeared from the U.S. and been replaced by the service sector are without basis. Some on both the left and the right have played into the myth that the U.S. is a de-industrialized land with no working class, no industrial proletariat as typically understood. The growth of the service sector in recent decades is neither new nor indicative of the death of industry. In fact, services have outpaced industry since the early 20th century because as the capitalist economy expands from local to national to global, the problems of circulating capital, distributing goods and determining profits require more and more service type labor. The industrial core remains the sector on which most economic activity is dependent. While some industry in the U.S. has declined dramatically since the 60s and 70s – textiles and clothing for instance – for the most part manufacturing has simply relocated from its strongholds in the Northeast and Midwest to the South.
Continue reading As the South goes, so goes the Nation

Flying Squad pickets and the need for independent workplace groups

By JOMO

One of the innovative things that came out of the Teamsters Rebellion in 1934, was the flying squad picket. The flying squad picket is a rapid response group of members who are ready to mobilize on short notice to provide direct support for pickets or actions. It is important for how it mobilizes many workers in real time. Farrell Dobbs talks about how the flying squad pickets then included not just union workers, but also unemployed workers and people from the community.

This sort of direct action seems particularly relevant given the times that we are in right now. Unions are weak, union busting is normalized, unemployment is rising, and social services budgets are slashed with no qualms. Many workers are losing confidence that the contract negotiation process is going to help them keep their jobs, or tide through the lows of the economic crisis. The recent resounding No vote by 75% of UAW members and up to 90% in some locals,against the concessionary UAW/Ford contract, is the clearest testament to this utmost lack of faith and indignation against the union bureaucracy. This has not happened for decades. It is clearer than day that union bureaucracies have cowered at the economic crisis and perpetuated this sense of inevitability and legitimacy of attacks on workers. This can be the only foreseeable result after decades of racism that have only too conveniently shifted the blame unto third world workers, as well as economic nationalism that is more about keeping US companies afloat rather than fighting for the working class in the US.

This raises the question: What can sufficiently fight back against this economic crisis? What kind of actions and organizations can counter these endless attacks and criminalization of workers struggles?
Continue reading Flying Squad pickets and the need for independent workplace groups

Some thoughts on Teamster Rebellion by Farrell Dobbs

By JOMO

I just read the labor classic, “Teamster Rebellion” by Farrell Dobbs. It is a very exciting book because Dobbs goes into the nitty gritty of organizing 3 major strikes that faced retaliation not only from management, Minneapolis cops, but also from the National Guard. These strikes happened in 1934, a crucial time for the labor movement during the Depression Era. The spirit of resistance and struggle spread like wildfire and in that year alone, 3 major strikes took place in the US — in San Francisco, in Toledo, and in Minneapolis, reminding the world over and over, that the US is a majority working class country. And these workers had a bone to pick with their bosses.

There are of course, some problems with learning about organizing through the narratives of grand strikes. One major one is that not all endeavors taken on by the working class are victories. The Minneapolis strike came in 1934, five years after the Great Depression began, arguably after people lived through the worst of their economic ordeals, and after many less successful attempts. The courage of countless workers who stuck their heads out first, their unrelenting resilience that kept them organizing despite the real threat of retaliation are easily forgotten in light of the grand victories. In reality, how people persevered though their losses, continuing to build organizations and infrastructure to keep resisting are often times more realistic for movement builders who have to live through the highs and lows of struggles.

Nonetheless, there are many precious lessons to be taken from “Teamster Rebellion.” For one, it brings alive what “class struggle” is. Class struggle, as one finds through the pages of the book, is nothing short of class warfare. There are friends, there are enemies and there is a battle that needs to be won. Today, the euphemism for class oppression is “classism,” and a popular way of addressing it is through richer people recognizing their class privilege. What this translates into is rich people being nice to their poorer brethren. Great, but not quite enough. Reading “Teamster Rebellion,” following Dobbs’s recollection of Bloody Friday in Minneapolis, where workers armed themselves to defend the picket line against police-escorted scabs, reminds one that the way to change the dire economic oppression that workers encounter is through workers coming together, ready to fight and take risks. It is only through these collective actions that workers have a shot at winning. The bosses, capitalists and union bureaucracies don’t give, and even though some are smarter than others in deciding when to cut their losses, its never out of benevolence. Working people have had to FIGHT for their gains, through warfare, wading through tear gas, no less.
Continue reading Some thoughts on Teamster Rebellion by Farrell Dobbs